Shelf-edge deltas : stratigraphic complexity and relationship to deep-water deposition
This research investigates the character and significance of shelf-edge deltas within the sedimentary source-to-sink system, and how variability at the shelf edge leads to different styles of deep-water deposition. Because the shelf-edge represents one of the key entry points for terrigenous sediment to be delivered into the deep water, understanding of the sedimentary processes in operation at these locations, and the character of sediment transported through these deltas is critical to understanding of deep-water sedimentary systems. The research was carried out using three datasets: an outcrop dataset of 6000 m of measured sections from the Permian-Triassic Karoo Basin, South Africa, a 3D seismic data volume from the Eocene Northern Santos Basin, offshore Brazil and a dataset of 29 previously published descriptions of shelf-edge deltas from a variety of locations and data types. The data presented highlight the importance of sediment instability in the progradation of basin margins, and deep-water transport of sediment. The strata of the Karoo Basin shelf margin represent river-dominated delta deposits that become more deformed as the shelf-edge position is approached. At the shelf edge, basinward dipping, offlapping packages of soft-sediment-deformed and undeformed strata record repetitive collapse and re-establishment of shelf-edge mouth bar packages. The offlapping strata of the Karoo outcrops record progradation of the shelf margin through accretion of the shelf-edge delta, for over 1 km before subsequent transgression. The Eocene Northern Santos Basin shelf margin, in contrast, exhibits instability features which remove kilometers-wide wedges of the outer shelf that are transported to the basin floor to be deposited as mass-transport packages. In this example, shelf-edge progradation is achieved through „stable. accretion of mixed turbidites and contourites. The data also emphasize the importance of the role of shelf-edge delta processes in the delivery of sediment to the basin floor. A global dataset of 29 examples of shelf-edge systems strongly indicates that river domination of the shelf-edge system (as read from cores, well logs or isopach maps) serves as a more reliable predictor of deep-water sediment delivery and deposition than relative sea level fall as traditionally read in shelf-edge trajectories or sequence boundaries.